Youth and Penn State

Back when I was a senior at the University of Delaware, I worked as the editor of our newspaper, The Review.

Although it hadn’t been done in a long time, I thought it’d be cool to put out an outrageous, offensive April Fool’s issue. So that’s what we did. The cover articles included SNOOP EXCITED TO ADDRESS BITCHES AT COMMENECEMENT and COLLEGE PRESIDENT RESIGNS TO JOIN CAST OF HEE-HAH. The dominant story, MIDGETS FIGHT TO TAKE OVER NEWARK, was the most offensive of all. We actually took an old photograph of a short-statured former student, placed a Blue Hens football helmet over his head and named him Butch Romano—”The Hens’ new nose tackle.”

Well, folks complained and complained and complained. One student angrily phoned the dean, screaming, “How can the university have Snoop Doggy Dogg speak! It’s outrageous!” The mother of the short-statured student happened to still live in town, and she threatened to call the Little People of America and have them picket the paper. The backlash was intense, and I vividly recall one of the journalism professors telling me that, years from now, “You’ll look back at this with shame.”

Well, it’s years from now. And there is no shame.

Why? Because college is, first and foremost, a time for learning. For grasping. For experimenting. It’s a time for testing your voice and your angst and your passion and your frustration. It’s a time for placing a midget on the cover of the student newspaper and, at Penn State in 2011, a time to be angry over the perceived mistreatment of a football icon. I’m not suggesting it’s OK to be violent, but it is OK to be mad, and to verbally/emotionally express that anger.

Do I agree with the take that Joe Paterno has been wronged. Nooooooo—not even remotely. This was his program; his defensive coordinator; his watch. Penn State had to fire him. No questions. But do I think, years from now, angry students will look back with remorse? I don’t. Because, while they may well change their positions, they’ll have the worldiness (at least some will) to understand that, at the time, they felt a certain way.

It’s learning.

PS: One of my favorite quotes is from Charles de Gaulle: “The cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men.” Joe Paterno is huge today. He will be but a memory soon enough.